Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
From ancient times Carmel felt––one could say––the need of being the mountain of
the Virgin Mary, becoming a symbol of Her. And this for three obvious reasons: because
of its beauty, because of the glory of God claimed on its summit and because of the
beginnings of the coenobitic life, of which it was witness.
That which firstly attracted the gaze of antiquity upon Carmel was none other than
its beauty. This mountain, or rather this small chain of mountains of Palestine, the principal
peak of which rises in the form of a promontory in front of the Mediterranean Sea, as if in
the shape of a watchful sentinel, presents three characteristics which, merging into one,
constitute the true beauty of nature, and these are namely: majesty, grace and melancholy.
Its summit is crowned with pines and with majestic trees, the slopes are embellished
with splendid and thriving vegetation and strewn with pleasant villages; its base, instead, is
bathed in the waters of the Phoenician Sea. A singular mountain, it immediately captured
the admiration of the Jewish people who, by means of the mouth of its great ones, sung of
its beauties. When the bridegroom of the Canticle of Canticles wished to express the
beauty of his bride, he did not believe he could express it better than by saying that her
head is like Carmel: “Caput tuum ut Carmelus” (7:5). And when Isaiah wanted to
represent to us the splendour and the majesty of the future Messiah, he depicted Him
surrounded by the glory of Lebanon and re-clothed with all the beauty of Carmel: “Gloria
Libani data est ei, decor Carmeli et Saron” (35:2).
The sacred interpreters apply these similitudes to the Virgin Mary. And this is
correct, because indeed the beauty of Carmel, in its threefold character, represents
magnificently the beauty of Mary Most Holy. In Her we find the majesty of greatness,
namely the Divine Maternity, which is the supreme greatness to which a creature was ever
to be elevated; virginity replete with every grace and with every blessing, which is the
fruitful virginity of Mary before giving birth, during birth and after birth; and the sadness
of the greatest sorrow––well symbolised in that type of melancholy and of recollection that
arouses the contemplation of the mountain and of the sea––, which is the participation of
Mary in the human Redemption as Coredemptrix of the human race.
Nevertheless, that which rendered this mountain even more celebrated was the
victory which Elijah wrought over the prophets of Baal, claiming the glory and, with it, the
supreme rights of God.
But what relationship is there between this claim of the glory of God and the Virgin
Mary? Between this havoc of preachers of false divinity and She Who is the Mother of
divine grace and of mercy?... Three years before this great scene, Elijah had cast the
interdict over the countryside of Samaria, in punishment for the impiety of its king, Ahab,
saying: “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, during these years there shall
be no dew or rain except at my word” (I Kings 17:1). Then, a frightening drought and
famine desolated Samaria: the torrents and springs dried up, and the earth became arid and
Once their pride had in this manner been exhausted, Elijah had to lead the people to
acknowledge and to confess the true God; and this he achieved through the bloody
slaughter of which the people themselves were witnesses and formed part. The fire of
Heaven had revealed the true God, the false prophets were punished terribly. And then
“Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, crouched down to the earth, and put his head
between his knees. ‘Climb up and look out to sea,’ he directed his servant, who went up
and looked, but reported, ‘There is nothing.’ Seven times he said, ‘Go, look again!’ And
the seventh time the youth reported, ‘There is a cloud as small as a man’s hand rising from
the sea.’ Elijah said, ‘Go and say to Ahab, Harness up and leave the mountain before the
rain stops you.’ In a trice, the sky grew dark with clouds and wind, and a heavy rain
Now, what happened, or rather, what did the Prophet see whilst remaining crouched
on the ground?...The secret of future things which this vision contained apart from the
historical fact, and the great mystery that God pre-announced by it to Elijah, the Prophet
deigned not to manifest publicly to all, but in a hidden manner to his disciples. From them
we know by means of tradition that God, by a symbolic vision, revealed to Elijah four
great mysteries: first, that a little girl would be born, who would leave the maternal womb
free from every sin; second, the time when this would happen; third, that this little girl
would embrace perpetual virginity after the example of Elijah; fourth, that God, taking
upon Himself human nature, would be born of that virgin. And indeed, the small cloud that
the servant of Elijah saw rising from the sea was a figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
Who, little by means of Her humility, would be born from this sea, that is, from sinful
human nature, but in a different manner, because at Her birth She would not be oppressed
by the bitterness of crimes, but, like that small cloud, would be light because of Her
immunity from sin and sweet due to being filled with charisms. She, in fact, in Her birth,
was that cloud which had been written of symbolically by Moses: “Then the cloud covered
the meeting tent, and the glory of the Lord filled the Dwelling” (Ex 40:34).
The start of the Carmelite Order
On the slopes of Carmel the monastic life of the Carmelite Order had its beginning.
According to a pious tradition, the disciples of Elijah and Elisha dwelt in the limy caves of
the slopes of the mountain and there lived the hermitical life.
But what was the reason for this choice of place which was so precise, that they
were named the “Hermits of Mount Carmel”? Surely in that Palestine, which Elijah had
passed through in all senses, many other places, all impregnated with remembrances and
with graces of the great Prophet, could attract and detain those who aspired to the
succession of his spirit. The Cherith, on the banks of which Elijah had taken refuge by
order of God, offered them its living waters, considered, due to its having quenched for so
long the thirst of the Prophet, as a symbol of contemplation, for which they were avid.
Zarephath always spoke of the multiplication of the flour and oil and of the resurrection of
the son of the poor woman who gave shelter to the Prophet. And they could not even be
drawn to that region of the desert, a day’s journey from Beersheba, where Elijah, who had
become man again like us, had fallen asleep with a dejected spirit under the shade of a
juniper tree and, awakened twice by the Angel, had been by him refreshed with miraculous
bread that had allowed him to walk forty days in the desert until he reached Horeb, the
mountain of God par excellence? And ought this mountain not to attract them irresistibly,
in as much as it is a witness of the most exalted manifestations between God and Moses
and upon which, in a theophany of great style, the prophet Elijah himself had perceived, at
the testimony of St. John of the Cross, the divine essence itself in the breath of a gentle
Finally, it would have been an excellent choice for these hermits to have established
themselves on the banks of the Jordan, in those places where Elisha had picked up the
mantle of the Prophet, as a guarantee on the part of the firstborn son, and which was due to
him as the spiritual inheritance of his father who had vanished on a chariot of fire.
Surely the hermits were not insensitive to remembrances so rich in grace for them;
nevertheless it is on Mount Carmel that they established themselves.
In order to discover all the value and the meaning of this choice, one may reflect
that, between Horeb, pedestal of the dazzling and most sublime manifestations of God to
Moses and Elijah, and Carmel, where, in the shade of a symbolic vision, it was permitted
that a glimpse of the Virgin bearing the Messiah be seen, these austere and great
contemplatives did not hesitate. They that, at the testimony of St. Teresa, had such
complete contempt for the world, and who had proceeded to a place of such profound
solitude in order to find the precious pearl of contemplation, had settled on Carmel, near
the fountain of Elijah, in order to drink at the same fountainhead of light as their father.
Aspiring to something else, apart from the most sublime perception of God in His
essence at Horeb, they wanted to find the twofold living reality, announced by the
symbolic vision of Carmel.
It is, therefore, in order to discover the Virgin Mary, and at the same time Christ,
that the sons of Elijah came together on Mount Carmel; and it is in order to merit this grace
and to welcome Her that their contemplative gaze opened unceasingly onto the
Nevertheless, this cult and this way of life, lived in the practice of poverty and of
penance, under the auspices of the Virgin Mary, foreseen in the figure of the small cloud,
could not remain without reward. And it was precisely on the sacred day of Pentecost that
these hermits of Mount Carmel, seeing how in those times that which, as a privilege, God
had revealed to their predecessors by means of the vision of Elijah, would be
accomplished, that is, the birth of a little girl, who would leave the maternal womb free
from every stain of sin and who, imitating them, would choose voluntary virginity and
from whom would be born the Messiah, decided to be baptised by the Apostles.
Considering, then, how the human race would receive from the Son of God, through
the Virgin Mary, the longed for benefit of the rain, that is, of grace, they took care to serve
this Virgin with constant devotion. They undertook, therefore, to venerate Her in such a
way that, before everything else, they dedicated to Mary Most Holy whilst She was still
living, a Chapel, and they erected it at that very spot where Elijah had contemplated the
small rising cloud, an illustrious figure of the Virgin. There, from that time forth, they
gathered together, honouring with pious rites, with prayers and praises, the Most Blessed
Virgin as their singular Patron. There, moreover, they remained in humble conversation
upon the Word of God, the faults to avoid and the salvation of souls to procure. On account
of which, even those foreign to their religion, from that time forth, began always to call
them “Brothers of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel.”
Admirable disposition of divine Providence: the first Chapel dedicated to the divine
Mother was precisely that of Mount Carmel. The Virgin Herself, in a certain manner, thus
took possession of the title of Carmel, of that mountain which already in ancient times,
under various aspects, had prefigured and symbolized Her.
Such, then, was the first origin of the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount
The connection between the historical facts and actual
Devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
Having known the connection between Carmel and the divine Mother, a question
spontaneously arises: what connection is there between the historical facts and actual
devotion to the Virgin of Carmel? And what connection is there with the little habit of
Carmel, which is worn out of devotion to Her?
The coenobites of Carmel had perpetuated themselves, according to tradition, living
as anchorites and venerating in a special manner the Blessed Virgin.
History replaced the pious tradition in about the XII and XIII Century. In the XII
century, in fact, during the Latin reign of Jerusalem, many pilgrims coming from Europe
united themselves to the solitaries of Carmel. In about 1150 a priest from Calabria, named
Berthold, climbed that sacred mountain and restored one of the monasteries already
From that time forth, that family of anchorites developed greatly; Berthold obtained
as first, from the Patriarch of Antioch and Apostolic Legate, Almerico Malafaida, the title
of Prior General, and all the monks dwelling in those caves of the biblical mountain were
placed under his authority. St. Brocard succeeded him in the government, who in 1210
gave to the great Carmelite Family a rule fixed by Bl. Albert of Parma. Towards the year
1238 they spread to Cyprus and Sicily, and through the benevolence of the princes of the
crusade, also to other parts of Europe.
These hermits were respected by the Muslims due to their devotion towards Elijah,
this Prophet being venerated also by them. But then such tolerance came to an end and
their presence on Carmel became dangerous; because of this Alan, Prior General, in the
year 1245 decided upon the immigration to Europe. In the same year in the first chapter
held––at Aylesford––in England, Simon Stock was elected Superior General.
He had laboured much in order to obtain from the Holy See the formal approval of
the Order, which was granted on January 30
From this time forth the real progress and true life of the Carmelite Order had its
beginnings: from being hermits, the Carmelites became coenobites, and their coenobiums
1226, by Pope Honorius III.
St. Simon Stock and the Brown Scapular
Together with these, both in the East and in Europe, devotion to the Virgin of
Carmel started to spread, and in 1251, the same Virgin, to Whom St. Simon Stock was
very devoted, deigned to make him see a sign of love and protection, which She would
ever grant to the holy Order that he directed. In fact, on the night between July 15
, the Saint was at Cambridge, in his cell, when a heavenly light wholly inundated him.
Simon threw himself on his knees and raised his hands beseechingly towards Heaven. And
behold, in the midst of that light, appeared the Blessed Virgin Mary Who, presenting him a
scapular that She held in Her hand, said to him these words, which later he wrote and sent
to all the religious of the Order: “Most beloved son, receive the scapular of your Order, the
sign of my Confraternity, a privilege for you and for all the Carmelites. Whomsoever shall
die clothed with it shall be freed from eternal fire. It is a sign of salvation, a safeguard in
danger, a pledge of peace and of eternal alliance.”
The Christians immediately had great devotion towards the scapular of Carmel, a
devotion which continued to increase, when in 1316, during the long widowhood of the
Church on account of the death of Clement V, the Queen of Carmel appeared to James
d’Euse and, in announcing to him his proximate elevation to the Supreme Pontificate,
recommended him to spread devotion towards and confidence in Her scapular, because
She had granted it for the salvation of the faithful, adding that they who would die with
the little habit would be quickly freed by Her from the pains of Purgatory and conducted
into Paradise on the Saturday following their death. John XXII, moreover, promoted this
privilege, so called the Sabatine privilege, with a bull, in which the Most Holy Virgin
promised these three things: Her descent into Purgatory: “I, the Mother of Grace, will
come down on the Saturday after their death”; the pardon of the punishment and of the sin
at the moment of their death: “Thus the professed brothers of the said Order are absolved
from punishment and from sin, and this on the day on which they depart from this world”;
and the freedom from the pains of Purgatory on the first Saturday after their death: “I, the
Mother of Grace, will come down on the Saturday after their death and will free those
whom I will find in Purgatory and will conduct them to the holy mountain of eternal life.”
The descent of the Virgin to Purgatory ought not to be understood as Her personal
presence, as if every Saturday, leaving the glorious throne in the empyrean Heaven, She
would come down personally into Purgatory; but with Her virtual presence, so to say;
Her intercession or help, with which She aids the suffering souls. But even if Mary Most
Holy does not descend personally to Purgatory, nonetheless it must be the presence of Her
power and of Her most efficacious intercession, which the souls experience in that place of
The pardon of the punishment and of sin, at the moment of death, ought not to be
understood in the sense that it would free from some mortal or venial faults, because this
indulgence, as any other, is valid only for the remission of the punishment. Nevertheless it
is said to be conceded in remission of the sin and of the punishment in order to signify that
whoever obtains it must be free from the bonds of sin and of punishment: of the sin with
absolution or with contrition; of the punishment directly through the indulgence.
Lastly, the promise of freedom of the souls on the first Saturday after their death
concerns the benefit of the liberation and the time in which it happens.
All these favours promised us by the blessed Virgin under the title of Carmel, are
recalled precisely with the present Feast, which was extended to the entire Church by the
Dominican Pope Benedict XIII.
What are the conditions necessary in order to enjoy the two favours which the Most
Blessed Virgin, in Her immense mercy towards the Carmelites, has promised them?
The first privilege, as has been said, is the grace of final perseverance, expressed in
various ways: the freedom from the torments of Hell, a good death, the assurance of
Paradise. In order to enjoy this privilege it is necessary: to belong to the pious Association
or the Confraternity of Carmel; to lead a Christian and devout life; to always wear devoutly
the holy scapular, and to be clothed with it at the point of death, in the act of breathing
The second privilege, also called the Sabatine Privilege, is that of the solicitous
liberation from the pains of Purgatory after death. In order to enjoy this second favour,
apart from the conditions already required for the preceding one, it is necessary: to observe
chastity according to one’s state in life; to recite every day the little Office of the Blessed
Virgin Mary and to observe the fasts established by the Church. They, then, who cannot
read any more––being unable to recite the little Office of the Blessed Virgin––should
abstain from meat on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays of every week. It is to be noted,
however, that the abstinence from meat may not be freely chosen, in such a way that each
one may either recite the Office or not eat meat on the three aforementioned days; that is
only established for those who are not able to read. They, however, who are able to do so,
must recite the little Office. In the event, however, that they would not be able––for other
reasons––to recite the Office, and being unable to observe the said abstinences, should ask
a priest who has the faculty or the confessor, the changing of this obligation into another
good work. Generally such duty is usually changed to the recitation of seven Pater and Ave
in honour of the seven joys of the Virgin Mary in Heaven.
The first privilege, moreover, embraces various favours that are at the same time the
justification of the privilege itself as well as a splendid defense against the attacks of
incredulity and of ignorance; favours that have been manifested by the very words of Mary
Most Holy, Who said thus to Her servant: Receive this scapular as a distinguishing mark,
it is the special sign of my favour…” From these words it can already be understood that
we are not to place any intrinsic power in the scapular in itself; it is nothing but a
distinguishing mark, a sign, composed of two pieces of cloth of brown wool, united by
means of two strings.
Certain persons, however, say: “Why choose, as a distinguishing mark, an object so
ordinary, or rather an object which is so simple?”
If God would have consulted these learned ones on the plan that He had to become
incarnate, they would have rejected such a design as being great foolishness. What would
have happened if He had said to them: “This flesh taken from the womb of a woman, I will
conserve it eternally, I will exalt it with Me in glory, I will give it for you to adore on the
altars and to eat on an altar?”... Now, since Jesus has constituted the material and the
sensible signs as means of grace, what impropriety can we find in a material object chosen
by the Blessed Virgin and constituted as a distinguishing mark of an association that She,
in a singular manner, protects?
That the scapular is an ordinary and simple object is true; but we also know that one
of the virtues that is most wanting in the world is precisely humility. Well, even if we
consider this scapular to be so ordinary, it preaches to us the necessity of humility and of
simplicity and it tells us eloquently that it is a distinguishing mark of the protection of
Mary Most Holy, or rather, that an indispensable means to please Her is precisely humility,
united to simplicity.
However, if the scapular is a lowly thing and nothing in itself, it is something great
as a sign, because it is a symbol of one’s devotion towards the Virgin Mary; it is a sign and
symbol that She is pleased with and She protects in a singular manner whoever practices
Moreover, in this humble little habit we see once again and feel the love that the
heavenly Mother shows to them that wear it.
In the Sacred Scriptures, the gift of the garment, of the habit, has always been
considered as a sign of a most singular love. Jacob loved with a singular love his son
Joseph and to show him this love he had made for him a tunic woven in various colours.
Jonathan bound himself with great love to David, and he gave him not only the bow and
the sword, but also the tunic and the other necessary garments. The Virgin Herself, Who
with Her hands made the seamless tunic of Her divine Son Jesus, gave likewise, to St.
Simon Stock, the little habit of Carmel, this garment so simple, as a distinguishing mark
and special sign of love.
Now it is spontaneous for us to ask: do we appreciate this gift of Mary Most Holy,
the gift which She offers us as a special sign of Her love? But if we do appreciate it, we
ought also to understand that it is not enough just to accept it: it is necessary to receive it
with the sentiments with which the Holy Virgin offers it, that is, with the sentiment of
great veneration and of great love towards Her; and, that is why the little habit must be for
us a continuous appeal to the love of Mary Most Holy, to the covenant of love struck with
Let us clothe ourselves, therefore, with this scapular, let us wear it with the correct
dispositions, let us fulfill willingly the required conditions which are not burdensome, and
we will see how the Virgin of Carmel shall be our defense and the Paradise of our
homeland! And if it shall not be possible for us to avoid Purgatory completely, Mary Most
Holy shall also be our merciful liberator! She will speedily open for us its gates. She has
promised it; She will keep Her word if we merit it!
PRAYER TO OUR BLESSED LADY OF MT. CARMEL
O Most Blessed and Immaculate Virgin, honour and splendour of Carmel, Thou Who
dost look with particular kindness upon all those who wear Thy blessed habit, gaze
benevolently also upon us and cover us with the mantle of Thy maternal protection. Fortify
our weakness with Thy power; enlighten the darkness of our mind with Thy wisdom;
increase in us faith, hope and charity. Reclothe our souls with such graces and virtues
that they may always be dear to Thy divine son and to Thee. Assist us in life, console us at
death with Thy most amiable presence, and present us to the most august Trinity as Thy
children and devoted servants, so that we may praise Thee and bless Thee eternally in
Paradise. So be it.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us.